Politics & Government

Moments after being sworn in, ECU board at odds over who should lead it

Even at a school that has seen tension over leadership in the past year, Friday’s meeting of East Carolina University’s Board of Trustees was unusual. Within the first moments of the first meeting of the newly sworn-in board, members were at odds over who would lead it.

Trustee Angela Moss, who had just joined the board, was first nominated to be the new chairman. Shortly after, Vern Davenport, who had been serving as vice chairman, was nominated to be chairman, too.

All of the trustees were present in the room for the vote except Leigh Fanning, who had phoned into the meeting. Moss said that only board members who are physically present at the meeting can vote, which would exclude Fanning.

That led to a heated debate about whether such a rule was true, whether it should be applied here and what other governing rules or bylaws might affect a vote. ECU’s general counsel and Tom Fetzer, a member of the UNC system Board of Governors who was present, were consulted.

The board considered tabling the vote and ended up calling for a recess to get clarity.

By the time the issue came back up for discussion, Fanning had driven to the meeting and taken her seat at the table. The issue resolved itself, but the tension remained.

The board took a roll-call vote, with six members voting for Moss and seven members voting for Davenport, who was elected chairman.

The panel then proceeded with business as usual, voting to approve a revision to ECU’s alcohol policy, granting a faculty member tenure and approving the annual audit plan.

At the end of the meeting, Davenport said people came into the first meeting with different points of view about leadership. But, he said, the vote set things in place and he has no concerns about the group dynamic moving forward.

“A guy I worked for a long time ago said there’s not truth without debate,” Davenport said. “The energy that they brought to the discussion, the passion they brought to the university, the robustness of the discussion, that’s all a good thing.”

It is a time of transition in Greenville. Former ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton, whose tenure was marked by controversy, was asked to step down in March. He was often at odds with Greenville businessman Harry Smith, who is the chairman of the UNC system’s Board of Governors, a group that’s become increasingly more hands on.

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Davenport said he wants to get new members and returning members working collaboratively.

“Now it’s an issue of where their energy and expertise can most appropriately be used and what they’ve got a passion for,” Davenport said.

Board members will be busy working on two significant strategic priorities — ECU’s relationship with Vidant Health and a chancellor search.

On Friday, the board approved a resolution to restore power to the UNC system on Vidant Medical Center’s Board of Trustees, a battle that has been brewing in court in recent months. The resolution supports that 45 percent of appointees be chosen by UNC.

The other important task at hand is the chancellor search process. Davenport said ECU is focused on “landing the right person for this university for the next 10 years or beyond.”

Dan Gerlach is currently serving as interim chancellor.

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